At the PCW (now ECTS) show in London, a young Finnish
programmer called Stavros Fasoulas came up to Newsfield's
stand, and talked to people in Thalamus about the opportunity
to program some games for them. Thalamus signed him up,
and in November 1986, the first seeds of fruition were
shown in the shoot'em up Sanxion, with Gary Liddon of
Zzap! and Andrew Wright (he of ex-Activision and 'flat
top head') overseeing production. The game itself had
a nice viewpoint with overhead as well as horizontal views,
but for C64 historians there are two important things
to note: firstly, it was the very first game to use John
Twiddy's Cyberload loading system which contained the
now infamous message "hackers f*** off and die"
in the memory, and secondly, Thalamusik, Rob Hubbard's
loading theme which many still believe is the finest C64
tune ever made.
Stavros' next game was Delta in 1987, a progressive shoot'em
up with a slight twist - all the weapons only lasted a
certain amount of time, so they could run out and leave
you in the lurch! Again, this had another unique first
- the first use of "Mix-E-Load" which allowed
the user to mix at will Rob Hubbard's loading theme. The
brooding, lengthy ingame music was suggested by Liddon;
to make it sound like Pink Floyd. Many jingles hidden
away in the music code were small parts of Thalamusik
and the Sanxion title theme, and they were meant to have
been used for little extra life jingles etc. Gary Penn
gained no friends though when his outspoken comments about
Delta being "boring" and the fact that "I
don't like the computer dictate the action for me"
downmarked heavily Zzap! 64's rating. I must add that
Zzap!'s reviews were wholly independent of whatever Thalamus
might have thought. Indeed Commodore User rated Delta
more than Zzap! did.
Before heading off to do his military service, Stavros'
did one last game for Thalamus called Quedex (or to give
it its full title, the Quest For Ultimate Dexterity).
Based on ten levels, you controlled a ball in a race against
time trying to find each exit. What made it also difficult
was that you could only see a small part of the screen
as well so you would whizz around in the vain hope of
finding the way out... and then dying. Very frenetic.
Jacco van 't Riet (Jaws of Boys Without Brains) told us
recently that he's been in contact with Stavros who now
lives in San Fransisco. According to Jacco, Stavros has
never touched a computer after he left the C64, he has
only surfed the internet once and doesn't have email.
Another programmer who had caught Thalamus' eye was
Martin Walker. After producing two Rupert the Bear-related
games as well as Chameleon for Electric Dreams, his
next project was Hunter's Moon. Released in late 1987,
it remains one of the most under-rated C64 games ever.
Very much a thinking man's shoot em up, you had to control
the Hunter to find Starcells in each level. The aliens
you encountered required different strategies to kill,
and together with some excellent brooding human-like
sound effects made for a tense atmosphere. Particularly
one thing I love also is the loopspace pause mode, where
you could create patterns with the various alien movements
(very Jeff Minter-esque.)
Although we heard nothing for a few months from Thalamus,
we were treated to some subliminal advertising which heralded
two of 1988's biggest games - Hawkeye and Armalyte. At
the same time Thalamus realised that they had gained a
following of game fanatics, so in response you could order
the Thalamus T-shirt.
Hawkeye and Armalyte: The hits
Hawkeye was then released in August 1988 to much applause.
Not only did Mix-E-Load return, with this time Jeroen
Tel producing the music for the loader (and the game)
but also the game had an interactive story as a separate
load which explained the plot. Nice touch. The game itself
was horizontally scrolling platform mayhem, with many
an alien after the SLF (synthetic life form) that your
character was. Collecting the puzzle pieces needed was
a touch difficult, but the end of the level was a nice
touch - the next level loaded as the level complete bonuses
etc. were added. And if you were really good to get through
the first five levels without dying, you got a secret
November 1988 was another gaming pinnacle in Armalyte.
Thalamus' marketing decided to subtitle it Delta 2 which
was a little unfair on both games. However, Armalyte was
a rather good shoot'em up, with lots of colour and effects,
a superb loading tune by Martin Walker, and a game that
you had to really play in two player co-operative mode
(with the second player controlling your helper drone
ship when achieved) for best effect. And if you actually
battled through the whole game, you were rewarded with
a superb little end sequence that made completing the
game well worth it.
1989: Snare, Retrograde and The
Search For Sharla
1989 saw the release of another mean game, Snare. I say
mean because the game involved you manouvering your ship
around 20 areas in a void, called The Snare, and if you
completed them, the end sequence is something you will
either laugh or get frustrated at! And then in Christmas
1989, an unexpected surprise - Retrograde. Programmed
by the team of John and Steve Rowlands with Rob Ellis
(as they were Transmission Software back then) the game
was released to much applause. More than just a shoot'em
up, it required tactitcal elements in buying weapons,
selling them off at a price less than you paid for them
(all in the mysterious ARA currency) so you could equip
your craft with the right weaponry, and not just that
of course - big, mf end of level aliens. As well as that,
the disk version had a nice music selector with some of
Steve Rowlands' great tunes.
Also in 1989, there was the mystery that was The Search
For Sharla. It was meant to be a large exploration game,
but was never finished, despite Steve Rowlands making
some graphics for the end sequence, and was going to rival
Freescape (the system used in Incentive's Driller) in
terms of viewpoints and freedom of movement around the
1990: Heatseeker, Summer Camp and
the big hit Creatures
1990 saw three more Thalamus games as now they were realising
their popularity along with the fact that programmers
realised their quality product could be associated with
them. So we received Heatseeker, a very strange platform/puzzle
game which, like programmer Paul O'Malley's previous game
Arac, was very peculiar to work out. Mark Clements, who
composed the music for the game, told me recently that
he actually did two drafts for the game's music but they
were not used as they didn't leave enough memory for the
game. Then there was Summer Camp programmed by John Ferrari
(who also made famous budget label games such as Mastertronic's
The Human Race, Codemasters' Moto X amongst others) which
was a jolly game featuring Maximus Mouse walking around
platformed levels collecting pieces of ACME (sic) crates
to build blueprints of vehicles. Cute and funny too.
But undoutedbly, one of the highlights of 1990 was Creatures.
Another cute platform game, programmed by John and Steve
Rowlands (now Apex Computer Productions) this involved
the cute Clyde Radcliffe, a Fuzzy who could breathe flames
and fire such weapons as the droopy to eliminate the demons
and also save the Fuzzies from a fate worse than death
in the Torture Chambers. Of course, to gain special weapons,
Clyde would have them concocted in a witches' hut with
a 36-24-36 perfect figured witch babe. What made the game
unique was that the platform action interspersed itself
with the torture screens, which were so fiendish and involved
many chainsaws cutting up the Fuzzies in a cartoon way.
By the way, the full acronym of Creatures (just to clear
up any arguments) is "Clyde Radcliffe Exterminates
All The Unfriendly Replusive Earth-ridden Slime".
The game instructions didn't help by misspelling Clyde's
name as Clyde Radcliff. :-(
1991: The Up'n down year
It started well enough, with the Rowlands' busy at work
starting on Creatures 2 and having their game diary (like
Creatures) appearing in Zzap! 64. However, due to Newsfield's
financial problems, in October 1991 the future was uncertain.
Newsfield went bump, Zzap! temporarily ceased publication
until the publishing company Europress Impact stepped
in, and so gamers were justifiably worried. However, help
was at hand and eventually Thalamus resurfaced, trading
as Thalamus Europe.
1992: A good year
Creatures 2 was released to massive applause. This time
it meant lots of Torture Screens (due to popular demand)
along with intermissions where you'd bounce Fuzzies to
safety right to left. Oh, and some nice island hopping
where you'd swim to safety with the Fuzzies. All cute,
colourful and very popular with gamers.
At the time also Thalamus had another brainwave - and
this was to start a fan club for fans of their games.
So 1992 also saw the release of Winter Camp, the Summer
Camp follow up. Maximus Mouse was again cute in many a
sub-game, and even Clyde Radcliffe appeared in one of
the subgames! The game though was slated for excessive
difficulty. Also Thalamus gained the licence to produce
an Arsenal football computer game. It never materialised
despite them having John Ferrari as programmer.
1993: The End of Thalamus
1993 was Thalamus' last game, Nobby The Aardvark. Heavily
delayed due to legal wrangling, Genesis Software who'd
made a few good games for Codemasters programmed a really
cute game. As aardvarks go, Nobby was cute, and many varied
levels of action gained accolades. But this was to be
the last throw of the dice for Thalamus and they went
One interesting thing for all you Thalamus fans to know
about is that there's an internet service provider in
Sweden called Thalamus. The company was started and named
by Claes Magnusson, who went under the alias Charles McNewson
when employed at American Action (Blood'n Guts, Infiltrator)
in the old days. He was employed to take care of all the
print work among other things.
An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for Thalamus, or indeed
produced any games for them, feel free to let
us know your experiences of working there.
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